Feel My Muscles
When I was in 6th grade, our teacher told us a story about a young farmer who bet an acquaintance of his, a fellow from the city, that given 5 years to prepare he could lift a full-grown cow over his head. Certain that this was impossible, the acquaintance from the city took him up on the bet. The young farmer thought himself to be a shrewd man and had a plan. A new calf had just been born. Every morning the young farmer would walk into his pasture and lift the calf over his head. Knowing that muscle builds over time, the farmer had concluded that by the time the calf was full-grown, by lifting daily he would have become strong enough to lift it.
Our teacher never told us the result of the farmer’s experiment. It is, after all, just a fable. But as elementary school students are bound to do, we focused all our powers of speculation on whether or not the farmer won the bet.
Over time I realized that this story is less about whether it’s actually possible to lift a cow over your head, and more about the importance of daily discipline. I also realized how dumb elementary school students could be.
December 6, 2008
Saturday Morning: I wake up and, before I take a shower, make sure to lift the weights I got last month. There’s no real set routine. Instead, I just lift however much I feel like. Today I lift 10 times with one arm, then switch to the other arm and do 10, then switch back again, and so forth. The only thing I try to do is make sure that I lift the same number of times with each arm. This isn’t as easy as you would think. My left arm is noticeably stronger than my right. My wife, Shannon, says it’s because I throw with my left arm. But it leaves me with uneasy questions: Should I still lift the same amount with both arms? Will they even out eventually? What if they don’t? Should I be lifting more with my right arm to try and even them out? What if, in trying to compensate, I miss the point where they are even, and then my right arm becomes stronger than my left?
After I finish my routine-of-the-day, I take off my shirt and flex my biceps in front of Shannon. “Feel my muscles,” I say with a grin. “Oooh,” she says.
But she doesn’t say it in the way you would think. Not in the way a woman would lavish her adoration for someone like Kevin Sorbo, who played Hercules on TV and regularly misplaced his shirt by the end of each episode. No, instead there’s a now-unspoken joke between us every time I lift weights.
The day I bought the weights with birthday money I received from my wife’s parents, I put them together and lifted like a man on a mission. Several years ago, I worked for a geo-technical consulting firm as a lab technician, a job which was less about science and more about lifting a weighted hammer thousands of times a day. This had turned a skinny, floppy-armed boy into someone who could finally do pull-ups. Unfortunately, muscle unused is muscle lost, and now years later, my past muscles have been relegated to legend. When I got these new weights, I was so anxious to build back the old muscle, that same day if I could, that I over-lifted. As a result, I was sore for an entire week. Through my own over-exuberance, I rendered my arms useless. It hurt to lift books, boxes, baskets full of laundry… pencils.
That’s why I stick to my current Lift Enough But Not Too Much Program. And, you know, I think it’s working.
But tell you what, let me prove it to you. If you see me on the street, in the library, at a meeting or wherever, ask to feel my muscles. Ask for “the gun show.” I will say yes. And you will see that the program works. We can talk about our favorite lifting techniques, “gun control”, whether Lou Ferrigno could beat up Arnold Schwarzenegger, lifting cattle over our heads, and so much more. And if I don’t let you feel my muscles, try to understand that it probably means I over-lifted again.